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The Dog Pound

Ridiculous Rents and What to Do About Them


TALKING LOUD, SAYING NOTHING: Watching the collective epileptic seizure that’s been emanating this week from Cleveland, I’m most struck by all that’s not been said. Yes, the gynophobes and misogynists have whipped themselves into a fine lather over how sublimely despicable Hillary is. In another context, I might find “Lock ’er Up” a catchy call-and-response. But in this case, the best friend and political consigliere of New Jersey governor Chris Christie — the guy leading the “Lock ’er Up” charge — was just indicted for bribery on a massive scale. Something about glass houses and stones somehow creeps to mind.

Angry Poodle

By contrast, conventioneering Democrats showed such amazing restraint in 1972, when Richard Nixon ran for reelection. No “Lock ’im Up” chants were to be heard even though Nixon actively conspired to bribe the Watergate burglars — hired to break into Democratic Party headquarters to see what dirt they had on Nixon’s corrupt dealings with Vegas mogul, recluse, and germaphobe Howard Hughes. When the FBI got too close, Nixon unleashed the CIA to chase the G-men away. In 1986 — though not a convention year — Democrats would have been justified in shouting “Lock ‘im Up” about Ronald Reagan, for authorizing a top-down conspiracy to sell missiles to Iran — then illegal because Iran was our declared enemy — and using the proceeds to buy weapons for anti-communist guerrillas (terrorists by today’s lexicon) then trying to overthrow the socialist government of Nicaragua. All this was done despite explicit congressional prohibition against spending a dime to help these “rebels.”

If the Democrats could bite their tongues then, certainly, the Republicans would be advised to follow suit, especially since the FBI just determined Hillary Clinton’s breach of email security precautions — however egregious — did not constitute an indictable offense. Yes, it’s true Donald J. Jr. gave a hell of a speech Tuesday night. But it will never make anyone forget the now infamous “50 words” Melania Trump inadvertently borrowed — plagiarism is theft; shouldn’t we lock her up, too? — from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. Personally, I cringe when spouses and children give endorsement speeches for candidates. Doesn’t anyone else like them? But it’s actually worse than that.

Clearly coercive, this behavior constitutes a form of domestic violence for which the chant “Lock ’im up” might actually be apt.

If the message coming out of Cleveland is “Lock ’er Up,” it’s because the Republicans have no other means to unify their shattered party. I get it. In Santa Barbara, by contrast, when we have no clue what to do about an issue, we pretend it doesn’t exist. Up to a point, that works. That approach has worn thin, however, when it comes to the economic pain suffered because of Santa Barbara’s notoriously high rents. Why this issue has been so politically ignored as long as it has remains an abiding mystery. But that may be changing.

A group calling itself the Rental Housing Roundtable — which represents several alphabets’ worth of acronyms and community organizations — is coming out of political hibernation to talk about the rental situation at a Thursday-evening forum at the downtown library. Based on the most recent annual rent survey prepared by the City of Santa Barbara, the median rent for all studios is now $1,438 a month. Six years ago, it was $1,095, $343 a month less. For two bedrooms, the jump was $750, from $1,750 a month to $2,500. That’s $9,000 more a year. Few of us have seen our pay increase by anything near that in the past six years. We’re lucky if it’s held steady. According to all the economic formulas, you need to make $54,000 a year to afford the median studio, and $93,000 to afford the typical two-bedroom unit. But according to Census information, the median household income for people who rent is $48,000.

I talked to a friend who recently equipped a vacant bedroom with a microwave, minifridge, and kitchen countertop. He added a deep box sink in the bathroom for dishes. He’s getting $1,100 a month. He got 35 applications. Talked to another guy who’s been living at the same place on the lower Riviera 15 years. His place was the back half of an illegally subdivided house. For the past four years, he’s paid $850 a month. In April, City Hall inspectors red-tagged his home, meaning he could no longer sleep there. Someone complained. He’s 65. His landlord moved him into one of the cottages and allowed him to pay normal rent, but only for a few months. He went to Dos Pueblos as a kid, attended City College and UCSB, and worked in wine shops his entire adult life. Last December, he found himself suddenly unemployed. Social Security, if untaxed, would barely cover the new rent he’ll have to pay. But taxed it is, so he’s all dressed up with no place to go.

Some tenants at a 16-unit apartment on the 400 block of East Victoria Street just got notified their rents were going up $200 a month; others by $400. The building was recently sold. It’s now being gussied up. Most of the tenants have already left. One tenant works two jobs: “customer success manager” by day and hipster beer sommelier by night. His partner works, too. Even with three jobs, they’re just squeaking by.

At the Thursday forum, organizers will talk about various and sundry solutions. In unincorporated Santa Barbara County, landlords face-lifting their digs are required to pay relocation assistance to tenants displaced by higher rents imposed to pay for the face-lift, but only under certain circumstances. The City of S.B. has a similar measure, but it only applies to landlords seeking to convert rentals to condos. That’s not the issue. That can be tightened up. Organizers talk about mandatory leases and just-cause evictions. But a justcause ordinance without rent control can’t stop evictions by rent increase. Even privately, forum organizers shy away from the words “rent control.” They prefer the term “rent stabilization” instead. It’s less scary. Whatever. It may not be much, but unlike Cleveland, they’re actually talking about something. And that’s a start.

Editor’s Note: The year 1984 was given in an earlier version of this story regarding Ronald Reagan’s secret Iran missile deal, apparently because the author went time traveling without putting his seat belt on and got his brain squeezed in a time warp. The date has been corrected to 1986.

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